From the Publisher: Far Away Like a Runaway Balloon – The Star Turns 11

Photo: DarkDwarf. CC-BY-ND

What they don’t understand about birthdays and what they never tell you is that when you’re eleven, you’re also ten, and nine, and eight, and seven, and six, and five, and four, and three, and two, and one. And when you wake up on your eleventh birthday you expect to feel eleven, but you don’t.You open your eyes and everything’s just like yesterday, only it’s todayAnd you don’t feel eleven at all. You feel like you’re still ten. And you are—underneath the year that makes you eleven.

Sandra Cisneros

2022 opened with me in the middle of a new wave of the pandemic, being enlisted to curate three music shows for the Wayward Music Series at the Good Shepherd Center in Wallingford, and even performing in a show myself that January, wondering if anyone would show for any of the events, despite COVID-19 protocols being in place. The year closed with me being asked when I was going to travel overseas again.

The country around me seems to have followed along that path, too: asking itself in January what could be done on the home front with creativity, and deciding in December that the world still contained an awful lot of mystery and needed to be met with respect rather than abject fear.

Yet strangely, as I’ve discovered while publishing The Seattle Star these past 11 years, the world has always been more open to us than the home front. Poets from India, Ireland, Turkey, Australia, Scotland, England, and China seek us out; Seattle poets rarely submit anything. The same goes for fiction. 95% of submissions come from outside of Seattle. British and South African radio dramatists have asked after us frequently; American radio producers prefer to ignore our existence or form Twitter mobs talking about how their white middle class bourgeois generic radio ought to be immune to my very not-white, non-bourgeois, non-generic “punching down” at their efforts. And so on.

Being a Seattle boy, I learned at some point to accept this. Seattle, for all its pretensions about regionalism, generally gives the middle finger to anything from any of us born here that isn’t easy technology. It’s all part of the “world class city” gambit, a blunt statement that we can only be an important cosmopolitan center if people from the East Coast give us their consent, and that nothing we create here is good enough, and how great it is when artists from elsewhere come to stay less than five years in their grand attempt to duhSIVILEYES us and that they’re far more notable than us peons. This is, of course, hogwash. But it persists nonetheless.

So as I write this, The Star is celebrating its 11th birthday in hushed, muted tones, like those of downtown after 7 pm. Of course I still have myriad thoughts in my head, a great sense of incompleteness, and like Scaramouche, a bit of laughter and a sense that the world is mad. Over the course of the year I became not only publisher of The Star but also the leader of International Netlabel Day. This led me to create a 51 hour live broadcast featuring music and musicians from all over the world and an equally Sisyphean task of 1) organizing the event, 2) distributing all the music, 3) restructuring the whole archive for the future, and 4) trying to keep people’s faith in the Commons alive.

Though the focus of Netlabel Day is much more narrow and specific than the fairly wide-ranging interests of The Seattle Star, I’ve discovered that it’s just as difficult to keep faith in music alive as it is to keep alive faith in general-interest journalism. I understand the plight. It’s difficult for me to keep faith myself. But after 11 years, I’m still here and so is The Star. My core beliefs as a human remain essentially the same; therefore, my core principles as a journalist and as an artist also remain the same. I still believe that algorithms and data collection over which one does not have control and by which others profit off one’s back are a swift definition of evil. I still believe that people are far less narrow-minded than journalists think. I still believe that sharing is the essence of civilization and that economies built upon not sharing are grotesque and should be destroyed. I believe a hundred other similar things.

But what I find myself returning to, year after year, in this crazy, runaway engine of a nation called America, is that real faith is difficult because it’s earned rather than given. It requires also the desire to shake belief to its foundations to see if it’s actual faith or just a notion. Having the faith I do in a culture of sharing and plenitude proves difficult to hold because it’s difficult to practice. But that’s what makes it important. I have to take advantage of every opportunity just to practice, and much of that practice requires hard skepticism along with celebration. Others may bristle, but then my faith has outlasted theirs by far.

I’ve also reminded myself that community is difficult for a similar reason: it requires contribution, not just withdrawal. I think it’s in Gary Hustwit’s documentary Urbanized, where one of the urban planners says, “Living in a city means that you use things that other people use.” It’s very much the basis of any real community. Things are shared. Materials are shared. But also, responsibilities are shared. Using the same bucket means everyone has to take care of the bucket because everyone needs the water. It’s harder than paying someone else for ownership, yet it nevertheless is the basis of civilization.

It’s been largely forgotten in our late capitalist society. But it’s not dead. The work of Nobel Prize winning Elinor Ostrom deals with the very subject. It is the real value of community. It’s far more important than mere user groups who simply withdraw based on common interest but never actually contribute or even maintain the ability of others to make similar withdrawals.

If we who believe in the Commons can help restore a sense of community, and a sense of sharing as both a continuous gift and a continual responsibility to the millions of users in groups, I think we can also begin to restore faith. Not just a faith in the abstract or the unknown and unknowable, but a simpler faith too: a faith in the kindness, goodness, and rightness of our fellow human beings.

I will be working the next six months on restoring that faith to the group of individuals who have contributed so much to Netlabel Day over the past seven years. With any luck, it will be the best Netlabel Day ever. The Seattle Star will be a part of it. But it will also continue on its own way, working to restore people’s faith not just in music, not just in journalism, not just in topical discussion, but also in the very ability to have any kind of discussion at all that isn’t facile and made to fit neatly in well-regulated platform logic.

I hope you will join me.

Thank you for your support over the years. I hope to reward it ever further.

Categories Commons

Omar Willey was born at St. Frances Cabrini Hospital in Seattle and grew up near Lucky Market on Beacon Avenue. He believes Seattle is the greatest city on Earth and came to this conclusion by travelling much of the Earth. He is a junior member of Lesser Seattle and, as an oboist, does not blow his own trumpet. Contact him at omar [at] seattlestar [dot] net

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